The prime minister has declared that Britain should become an "aspirational nation" and blow me down, who should come knocking on my door to ask if I'd like to become a member, but the CLA? I'd never previously aspired to be more than a member of the TFA and the NFU, but with David Cameron now declaring that I must try and better myself, perhaps it is time to climb the social ladder and join the organisation that represents the interests of the landed class.
Over a cup of tea (always Earl Grey between four and six) served in our best bone china (mugs are sooo uncouth, don't you think?) he handed me the CLA Land and Business magazine to flick through to "give you some idea of what our organisation can do for you". I pointed out that while I was glad to see "LAND" in big letters and "Business" in little letters, I was still a little shocked to learn that the CLA had apparently lowered itself to engage in "trade" (as I said the word, I sniffed as if a bad smell had entered the room).
To my alarm, he claimed that the modern CLA is perfectly happy to get its hands dirty in all sorts of areas of business. He was even uncouth enough to remind me how rising land values have made it more important than ever that landowners take good tax planning advice for both capital gains and inheritance tax - a service that the CLA is apparently well practised in providing.
"But how is talk about taxes and such like aspirational?" I felt like asking my guest. He really wasn't selling it to me so far, but once I started to read through the magazine my spirits lifted considerably. Articles on holiday homes and dinky little boats, talk of a CLA AGM in a fabulous castle and a picture of a country house that looked like Downton Abbey cheered me up no end. Even more encouraging, rather than lots of tedious stuff about how the wet summer and autumn had ruined wheat and potato crops (yaaawn), there was an article about how the deluge had affected "grouse counts". "Oh, this is more like it!" I almost blurted out loud.
Things got better still when I started to dig deeper into the magazine. I am used to the NFU's monthly British Farmer & Grower, which is full of ads for ear-tags (oh really) and pressure washers (oh pleeeease). How uplifting, then, suddenly to be faced with pages of ads for pukka private schools (is that an Old Buckenham tie you're wearing, old man?), Holland and Holland side-by-sides (fine shot, old chap) and the Queen's granddaughter Zara Phillips holding the head of an equally well-bred horse (Olympic silver medal, darling).
I decided David Cameron was right - it was time I got more aspirational and signed up to the CLA. Of course, gentlemen do not care to discuss finances (so indelicate and boooring - something one leaves to the estate's trustees) but in the end he let it slip that CLA membership would cost a little in excess of £500. This is not much more than it costs me to belong to the TFA and about one-third of what it costs me to belong to the NFU! As I showed my guest to the door I didn't bother to hide my disgust. £500? "Aspirational" - I don't think so. And who talks of pounds when there is the much more satisfactory guinea? If only my house had a grand set of front steps I'd have thrown the riff-raff down them.
Stephen Carr runs an 800ha sheep, arable and beef farm on the South Downs near Eastbourne in partnership with his wife Fizz. One-third of the acreage is in conversion to organic status.
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